Until My Voice is Gone–Serving with Vocal Nodules

“You have a vocal nodule on your right vocal fold.” This is the phrase I dreaded hearing from my ENT doctor in November of 2010. 4-6 weeks of complete vocal rest were ordered. After that, he wanted to re-check to see if I needed to see a surgeon at Emory for further steps. So many questions came through my mind…what if I lose my ability to sing or talk if I have surgery and it goes poorly? What if my church decides 6 weeks without me is too much and decides I need to move on? How did I let this happen in the first place?

I knew something had been up for most of 2010, but I ignored it because it wasn’t consistent. There was evidence, however. There were certain parts of my mid-range that voided when I tried to sing. I was raspy after rehearsals and Sunday services for about a day afterwards. I ignored it for much of the year because I thought If I just tried to ease up, I could prevent any actual damage from happening. When I finally got an appointment to see the ENT, I instinctively knew what he’d fine. In that moment all I remember thinking was, “how could I let this happen to me? I know better than to overuse my voice.” I talk about appropriate vocal hygiene everyday with my choir and personal voice students. I felt like a fraud. My worst fear? I was afraid it would prevent me from remaining in music ministry.

Rather than provide too many details on the process, I want to brag on how the Lord used those weeks (yes, even through the crazy Christmas season) to eventually teach me greater humility, patience, and trust.

While I was a trooper the first few days, I slowly melted into a self-deprecating, fearful, angry human being as I began to deal with the reality of my diagnosis and possible future. I felt so guilty for not being more careful. It was frustrating.

New habits had to form quickly. The way I communicated to our then six year old twins and two year old were the most difficult. Who doesn’t have to use their voice to get the attention of three boys multiple times a day? Professionally, it was most difficult to be banned from singing anything for that period of time. Leading rehearsals and worship services was a great challenge as I depended on my team to do all the singing for me. I’m still grateful for them.

One day early in the healing process, I remember telling my wife that I wondered if God was trying to prepare me for a different ministry outside of music. The next few days I spent crying out to God in prayer. I declared to Him I was willing to be obedient to however He wanted to use me and I meant it. If I NEVER sang another note, I would praise Him from the keyboard or in another way, but my voice was HIS for the using. In the days that followed, I felt the peace of God melt my fear of losing my “job” and ability to sing as He remind me that music is a tool for ministry; it’s certainly not the only way for me to serve. I was content with whatever He chose to do…heal my voice or open a new door for me.

Just before Christmas I went back for my follow-up scope and the node had shrunk completely. My doctor reminded me that there would always be scar tissue and if abused, the node would certainly return (a good reminder not to abuse it again). I was overjoyed and thankful. In those weeks of heartbreak and questioning, God showed me a few things through this process:

  1. I needed to spend more time investing in others rather than using my own gifts (singing/playing ability) in worship leadership. I try to minimize the times I sing or play alone throughout the year.
  2. I need to protect my voice when leading, singing, or teaching. This is the most difficult for me.
  3. I don’t need to raise my voice to my children or loved ones (ouch–still a work in progress)
  4. God loves me! He loves me so much to remind me that everything I have is on loan…everything. I MUST use it for the glory of God.

To this day I have periodic times that I can tell my voice needs a rest, but thankfully I’m restored vocally. When those times arise of vocal tiredness, rather than be annoyed that the scar tissue is there, I quickly alter my speaking or singing and smile because I am reminded that my voice is a gift from God and I will use it until I can’t any longer. It keeps me in check. I am thankful.

So I will go about Your altar, O Lord that I may proclaim with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all Your wondrous works.
Psalm 26:6b-7 NKJV

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